Film Review – Lifeboat (1944)

Title – Lifeboat (1944) 

Director – Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho) 

Cast – Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, William Bendix

Plot – A group of survivors of a ship that has been sunk by a German U-Boat find themselves stranded on a lifeboat with one of the crew members of the vessel that sunk them leading to a tense and dangerous battle of wits and survival. 

“Dying together’s even more personal than living together”

Review by Eddie on 12/10/2022

In a career catalogue that includes the likes of Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest, Lifeboat doesn’t often garner much attention when the best works of beloved director Alfred Hitchcock come up for discussion but while not getting close to the all-round greatness of Hitch’s most notable features, World War 2 thriller Lifeboat is still an engaging and impressively constructed ride. 

A collaboration with famed writer John Steinbeck, Lifeboat was designed and developed in the heat of the World War 2 period as Hitch and Steinbeck alongside screenwriter Jo Swerling worked together to pit a bunch of survivors of a merchant ship against a German crew member of the U-boat that sunk their ship, leaving them as a collective stranded on a lifeboat with many cat and mouse games (and some makeshift amputations) to transpire before they potentially reach their salvation, with Lifeboat earning three Oscar nominations on release including nominations for Hitchcock’s directing and Steinbeck’s story. 

A reportedly typically arduous shoot for its ensemble cast that were at the mercy of Hitch’s unrelenting quest to put his actors through the ringer, with this occasion calling for a regular drenching and swaying set to ensure his cast members were replicating some genuine sea set horrors, Lifeboat doesn’t always thrill or engage the way you would hope for with no central figure really gripping you and a few crew decisions seemingly fairly odd considering the circumstances but for a film set almost entirely on a single raft, Hitch can be commended for another masterclass in directing that shows his skill-set was not only for land based thrills. 

Caught between what is seemingly the right thing to do and also what the situation has created for them to enact in, the crew of the small lifeboat that includes Tallulah Bankhead’s feisty socialite Connie Porter, William Bendix’s unfortunate Gus Smith and Walter Slezak’s German solider Willi face a series of moral dilemmas and personal dramas that Hitch has fun exploring and while you can actually see Lifeboat being the type of film that could be remade in a worthwhile way with the right talent behind it, or even adapted for stage, this version of Hitch and Steinbeck’s morality tale and examination of the human condition is still a fun film that fails to reach the level of Hitchcock’s masterworks. 

Final Say – 

There’s tension and fun to be had from one of Hitchcock’s less spoken about films and while it fails to capture that magic many of Hitchcock’s films did, Lifeboat is still a solid and unique entry into a filmography that too this day remains an incredible body of work. 

3 1/2 flutes out of 5 

5 responses to “Film Review – Lifeboat (1944)

  1. Lifeboat is very good, and it deserves better than the anonymous reputation. You can find even in this little boat the premice of the paranoïa that will growing up in the great thrilling period.

  2. I really enjoyed this movie and it definitely deserves more love. It was interesting to learn later that Hitchcock got criticism for making the German the most capable person on the boat.

    • Sounds like it had a really intriguing journey to the screen and the filming itself.
      I did enjoy it without loving it but I am surprised it’s not spoken about more when we all talk about Hitch’s works.

  3. Pingback: Film Review – Lifeboat (1944) – MobsterTiger·

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